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A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity

by Paula Fredriksen

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44675-3
Publisher: Knopf

Don’t roll your eyes. Yes, it’s another contribution to the historical Jesus debate; yes, the whole conversation is getting tired; but Fredrikesen’s contribution is worth making time for. Our carpenter from Nazareth, Fredriksen argues, is not the Jewish Cynic depicted in some of the studies that dot Barnes and Noble shelves, nor is he the —Charismatic Galilean Hasid— of other books. The key to Jesus— life, she insists, is found in his death—a claim that challenges a number of previous books, including Fredriksen’s own From Jesus to Christ (not reviewed). His death, she writes, is —the single most solid fact about Jesus— life.— Since he was publicly crucified, not done in by knife or stone, we know that Jesus did not merely, as some scholars have suggested, instigate an internal Jewish squabble: Purely Jewish matters would never have occasioned a cross, the execution style usually reserved for political troublemakers. However, had Jesus posed a massive political threat to Rome, his followers would have been eliminated as well. The most solid fact we have about his life, then, is also the most puzzling problem: —Why was Jesus crucified?— The crucifixion, Fredriksen suggests, was intended to benefit the audience—the holiday throng in Jerusalem—more than anyone else: crucifixion as crowd control. Fredriksen has made not only the world of first-century Palestine, but also the maze of Jesus scholarship, intelligible to lay readers. She walks us through the complicated world of historical sources with care, explaining the value of Q and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Her discussion of John, which often gets short shrift among scholars fixated on the synoptic Gospels, is especially eloquent. Given the wealth of insights, it’s a shame that Fredrikesen indulges her penchant for make-believe. Her several fictional interludes, which imagine the young Jesus in Jerusalem and the destruction of the city, add nothing to her story—indeed, they distract from an otherwise elegant work.